Have you ever sat still in a crowded train station and marveled at the frenetic pace of the world around you?
You closed your eyes, and inside, you experienced stillness, maybe even peace. You opened your eyes, and there was the world, buzzing with chaotic, never-ending activity.
This is the dichotomy expressed by the pose Natarajasana, Dancing Shiva Pose.
Nat refers to dance, and raja is the word for lord or king. Nataraja is Shiva as the Lord of Dance, the cosmic dance of creation, preservation and dissolution.
These forms bypass the logical mind and speak to our intuitive intelligence, conveying the paradox and multi-dimensional nature of life.
Shiva Nataraja is a visual representation of reality as the Yogis perceived it. It is an iconic form that when contemplated, takes us to the heart of mystical experience.
If you look at the statue of Shiva Nataraj, its most noticeable element is the ring of fire surrounding the deity. This circle represents the manifest universe and the perpetual cycles that keep life in motion.
On one hand, there is the dance of life – its ups and downs, its challenges and rewards, the rhythmic cycles of day and night, the changing seasons and the stages of our lives; birth, growth, maturity and death.
But underneath all these movements, absolute stillness abides at the core, which bears witness to innumerable cycles of change but itself remains changeless.
Practicing Natarajasana challenges us to cultivate this dynamic poise that allows us to experience stillness within movement, and perceive the dance contained within stillness.
The ancient texts tell us emphatically that our true nature is Shiva – unlimited, pure Consciousness.
Approach this asana as a practice in embodying His state – dynamic, powerful yet utterly serene.
Begin by standing in Tadasana, rooting strongly through the feet and becoming aware of the central axis of the body.
Transfer your weight to the left foot and pick up your right foot, catching the foot with your right hand.
Exhale and draw the heel toward your seat. Extend your right knee down and draw the tailbone down, stretching the quadriceps and the front of the hip.
Ground firmly through the left foot, as though you could penetrate the earth with it.
Just as in the statue, Shiva is standing on top of a dwarf, which represents the forgetfulness of the ego of its true nature, stand tall in affirmation of the divine within.
As you ground through the four corners of the standing foot (i.e., base of the big toe, little toe, inner and outer heel), lift the arch of the foot and draw this energy up through the knee, thigh, and lower abdomen.
Now, lift your left arm to the sky, forming an energetic pillar through the standing side.
Allow yourself to become unshakeable in your alignment with this inner pillar.
Draw the sacrum deep into the body, and actively lengthen the tailbone toward the standing heel, creating as much space in the lower back as possible.
The right shoulder and hip may want to stray back with the foot, but resist this tendency. Guide the right side forward, squaring yourself to face the front.
At this point, keep in mind that Natarajasana is a backbend. Don’t be in a hurry to pitch the torso forward!
Instead, keep the heart lifted and buoyant.
Take several deep breaths, allowing this deep backbend to work through the entire spine.
Cultivate courage and poise, the essential qualities of an open heart that catalyzes the process of growth and expansion.
You can continue to reach your left arm up toward the sky to help keep the heart lifted, or you can extend it forward into the horizon, closing the tips of the thumb and index finger in chin mudra.
This gesture signifies the merging of the individual soul with the universal soul, or Shiva.
Soften your eyes and look into the distance, while maintaining an internal connection to the source of your breath.
Allow yourself to feel the confidence of an open heart, as you become established in steadfastness through your standing side.
If you fall, don’t worry. Be kind to yourself. Take note of what took you off balance, and try again.
Most of us have a “favorite side” which is stronger, so be sure to practice on the weaker side at least as many times as you do on the stronger side.
Mastering Shiva’s dance takes practice, just like anything else!
Trust your strength and poise, and embrace the process of growth and expansion as you reclaim your true nature, which is Shiva.